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ZPacks Duplex Tent Review

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The Zpacks Duplex pitched near a red rock arch in Coyote Gulch
Photo credit: Dave Collins (CleverHiker.com)

The Zpacks Duplex is the gold standard of ultralight backpacking shelters. Thanks to a spacious design, impressive weather resistance, and extremely low weight, it’s been one of our go-to tents over hundreds of nights on trail, including months-long thru hikes across rugged mountains and brambly deserts. That’s why the Duplex has been one of the top picks on our Best Ultralight Tents list and Best Backpacking Tents list for years. 

Ideal for challenging terrains, high-elevation ascents, and demanding 20-mile days, the Duplex is an excellent investment for ultralight and lightweight backpackers. As with any tent, it requires certain tradeoffs – it’s expensive, can be challenging to pitch, and isn’t the most durable – but the smart, efficient design sets it apart. Read on to find out why the Duplex is tough to beat when it comes to weight, interior space, and quality.

Quick Specs

Stock photo, Zpacks Duplex

Zpacks Duplex

Price: $699

Weight: 1 lb. 2.5 oz.(Doesn’t include poles or stakes, 2.6 oz poles sold separately)

Dimensions (LxWxH): 90 x 48 x 45 in

Seasons: 3-Season tent

Type: Non-freestanding tent

Pros

  • Ultralight
  • Deep bathtub floor
  • Bomber rainfly
  • Top-tier performance material
  • Functional vestibules
  • Generous interior space
  • Many other versions
  • Good condensation managment
  • Wide, easy-to-use doors
  • Freestanding kit add-on

Cons

  • High price tag
  • DCF is prone to punctures
  • Challenging to pitch
  • Stakes and poles sold separately
  • Lackluster pockets
  • Packs large
The Zpacks Triplex pitched in a rocky, high-alpine campsite on the John Muir Trail
3P Triplex – Photo credit: Dave Collins (CleverHiker.com)

Pros

Ultralight

Zpacks’ Duplex is the definition of ultralight. At only 1 pound, 2.5 ounces, the Duplex forgoes heavy materials, zippers, and poles, making it many times lighter than freestanding or semi-freestanding competitors. The Plex Solo, Duplex, and Triplex are some of the lightest tents in the world.

Zpacks uses ultralight and waterproof Dyneema Composite Fabric (DCF) to save weight. The tent shaves more ounces since it’s pitched with only two vertical poles. You can set it up with trekking poles, which is ideal if you’re hiking with them anyway. Or, opt for Zpacks’ ultralight 2.6-ounce carbon fiber tent poles.

While not every trek requires such a minimal shelter, the Duplex is a great choice for weight-conscious adventurers tackling tough mountainous terrain, long-distance trails, and thru-hikes. A tent is one of the heaviest items you’ll carry besides a sleeping bag, backpack, and sleeping pad. By reducing the weight of your shelter, you also reduce the overall base weight of your pack which supports a faster, easier, and more enjoyable hike. If you’re considering making the move to a lighter kit, check out our Guide to Ultralight Backpacking Basics.

The Zpacks Duplex tent pitched in a beautiful sage-filled campsite
Photo credit: Dave Collins (CleverHiker.com)

Deep battub floor

The Duplex offers outstanding weather protection, from light summer storms to massive, blustery downpours. Its bathtub floor is waterproof and runs several inches up the walls to prevent splashback. The rest of the interior tent is mesh to maximize ventilation. The Duplex has kept us bone dry during large, blustery rainstorms with rivulets of rainwater running off and beneath our tent.

The Zpacks Duplex tent pitched near a lake in the Three Sisters Wilderness
Zpacks Duplex

Bomber rainfly

The rainfly and tent floor are made of super light and waterproof Dyneema Composite Fabric (DCF). Zpacks offers two different thicknesses for the rainfly and both are highly waterproof. The advantage of a slightly thicker DCF rainfly is less transparent material and a bit more durability, although this is a very small difference.

Top-tier performance material

DCF doesn’t sag, absorb water, or stretch in heavy moisture or cold temperatures like the nylon blends of many freestanding and semi-freestanding tents.  We’ve found this fabric is reliable in all weather and dries quickly. With care and attention, the Duplex is built to last up to 2500 nights whether you’re a thru-hiker or a weekend warrior.

This high-performance material is also much more expensive than nylon, and the primary reason why the Duplex price tag is higher. However, if you’re a regular backpacker and you have the budget, the performance of DCF can’t be beat in wet weather, and we think it’s worth every penny.

Unlike double-wall nylon tents, DCF is not prone to water saturation, so it stays tight and effectively repels water instead of sagging in cold or wet weather. That means when heavy rain, strong wind, and chilly temperatures move in, you likely won’t need to re-tighten your guy lines or re-pitch your tent like many freestanding and semi-freestanding tents.

When it comes to strong wind and driving rain, the key is to make sure it’s staked well. Just like any non-freestanding tent, it’s critical that stakes go all the way in the ground and all 8 guylines are secured tightly. You may need to be creative when tying off a guyline or using rocks or logs to hold down a tent stake if the ground is too rough or hard. In our experience, as long as your stakes and guylines have enough holding power, the Duplex will keep you dry in inclement weather. If you’re headed out for a wet weather trip, check out our Top Tips for Backpacking in the Rain.

The Zpacks Plex Solo tent in the distance as the sun sets over Kings Canyon
1P Plex Solo on the Pacific Crest Trail – Photo credit: Heather Eldridge (CleverHiker.com)

Functional vestibules

The Duplex vestibules are simple and functional. They are an average size but offer plenty of space to keep a pair of shoes and a backpack out of the rain. The two large rainfly doors are overlapping flaps held together with hooks instead of a zipper, which prevents snagging issues and saves a bit of weight. However, Zpacks also offers a zippered version of the Duplex and Triplex.

By design, these vestibules sit many inches higher than a typical freestanding or semi-freestanding tent. The added space gives more flexibility on uneven ground, but it’s designed this way to increase ventilation and minimize condensation. Despite the increased distance from the ground, we’ve never had trouble keeping gear in the vestibule dry.

The Zpacks Duplex with a backpack in the vestibule
Photo credit: Dave Collins (CleverHiker.com)
Zpacks Duplex
Closeup of the Zpacks Duplex vestibule closure system

Generous interior space

Though we often prefer the Duplex for solo travel, it fits two campers comfortably. Compared to most 2-person backpacking tents, we’ve found the Duplex has above-average internal space. It offers a 28.1 square foot floor with a 48-inch peak height, creating plenty of headroom for two people to sit up easily. We even named the Duplex one of the “most spacious ultralight tents” on our Best Ultralight Tents list

The Duplex has sloping walls, which brings fabric closer to your face (versus a heavier dome tent with nearly vertical walls). On paper, this should feel like a tight space. In practice, we found the opposite. When laying down, the 7.5-foot length is plenty of room to spread out, and it’s easy to move around inside the Duplex without bumping into your tentmate. At 45 inches wide, you can fit one wide sleeping pad and one standard sleeping pad easily, although two wide pads would be tight.

We’ve spent many backcountry nights sharing the Duplex with a hiking partner and found it very manageable for two people. However, if you’re regularly hiking with a partner, we recommend sizing up to the Triplex for the extra room. Or, if you’re over 6 feet tall, consider the XL version for more headroom and length. Though these other options are more expensive and a little heavier, it’s worth it for even more space for you, your tentmate, and extra gear.

Two sleeping bags side by side in the Zpacks Duplex tent
2P Duplex – Photo credit: Dave Collins (CleverHiker.com)
Zpacks Triplex
3P Triplex – Photo credit: Dave Collins (CleverHiker.com)

Many other versions

The Zpacks Duplex comes in a variety of other versions to accommodate tall campers and more space, or add headroom and features. Regardless of where you’re hiking, what the trail conditions are, the number of people in your group, or your camping style, Zpacks likely offers a version of the Duplex for your next outdoor adventure.

  • 1P Plex Solo – The Plex Solo is a solo shelter and the lightest tent Zpacks offers. It uses only one pole to pitch and has a single door with one vestibule.
  • 1P Altaplex Solo – The Altaplex is the Plex Solo, but adds more floor area and more headroom. It’s designed for tall hikers up to 6’6”.
  • 2P Duplex – Zpacks’ best-seller, the Duplex is designed for two people. It uses two poles to pitch the A-frame shape and features two vestibules and doors.
  • Duplex Freestanding Flex Kit – This kit turns your Duplex into a freestanding tent by adding four carbon poles to its exterior. This allows you to pitch the Duplex on hard ground or when staking isn’t an option.
  • 2P Duplex Zip – The Duplex Zip is the Duplex with zippered rainfly doors, peak vents, and magnetic door tiebacks.
  • 2P DupleXL – The DupleXL adds more floor area and more headroom to accommodate tall hikers up to 7’.
  • 2P DupleXL Zip – This model adds zippered rainfly doors, peak vents, and magnetic door tiebacks to the DupleXL.
  • 3P Triplex – The Triplex is a 3-person shelter. It’s the same design as the Duplex but with longer, taller, and wider dimensions.
  • 3P Triplex Zip – The Triplex Zip is the Triplex with zippered rainfly doors, peak vents, and magnetic door tiebacks.

If you’re going solo and are focused on the lightest and smallest option available, the Altaplex Solo is a good pick. Otherwise, we prefer the Duplex for solo travel. It offers the versatility of more interior room and two doors for a small added weight penalty. An extra entrance allows you to set up with better views and in more locations. Plus, you have the option to sleep another person if you’re hiking with a partner or in an emergency. And if you or your hiking partner are especially tall, we recommend the Triplex for additional shoulder space and length.

However, it’s essential to choose a tent based on your individual needs. Luckily, Zpacks’ family of Plex tents offers a solution for almost any terrain or hiking conditions. For more help deciding what size of the Duplex is right for you, see our Backpacking and Camping Tent Size Guide.

Good condensation management

Condensation in the Duplex, like all single-wall tents, is inevitable. However, with a taut pitch in an open, flat, campsite, we’ve found that the Duplex manages moisture buildup well. The tall, wide mesh interior doors maximize airflow. When weather allows, consider keeping at least one vestibule door open overnight to minimize condensation. But, even when closed, we’ve found the clasp system on the rainfly allows air to move in and out more than the typical rainfly zipper. 

The rainfly sits higher above the ground than most double-wall tents to maximize airflow through the 360° mesh on the interior. You can always pitch your tent as high as possible to take advantage of any cross breeze. Plus, the 48” standard pitch height helps disperse condensation buildup. If you’re interested in more ventilation options, the Duplex Zip adds mesh-covered peak vents above each zippered door to help with even more airflow when the rainfly is closed.

Overall, occasional condensation in the Duplex is a small downside for its low weight. If there is condensation, you’ll likely be in the tent for a short time anyway – just to sleep – before you’re back out on the trail. And, DCF dries quickly, so your Duplex will be ready to go after being set up for a short dry spell.

The Zpacks Duplex pitched in a meadow beneath a snowy peak
Photo credit: Dave Collins (CleverHiker.com)

Wide, easy-to-use doors

We appreciate the expansive half-moon-shaped mesh doors because of their generous size and accessibility. Because the interior doors open down and rest on the ground, there’s no need for tiebacks. We’ve found the doors make access to all of your gear fast and easy, and the zippers are effortless to open and close with one hand if needed.

To some, it might be a downside that the door is designed to lay on the floor of the tent when it’s open. This increases the possibility of getting the doors dirty. However, we have never found this to be a significant issue. In our experience, the mesh tends not to get in the way when entering and exiting the tent and lasts a long time.

The inside of the Zpacks Duplex tent showing the interior zippered door and inside the vestibule
Photo credit: Dave Collins (CleverHiker.com)
The Zpacks Duplex in a sandy campsite surrounded by steep red rock walls

Freestanding kit add-on

For $150, the Duplex Freestanding Flex Kit transforms the Duplex or Duplex Zip into a freestanding tent. The kit adds 2 external poles (and 10.2 ounces) that run from corner to corner. It might seem counter-intuitive and even absurd to add poles to an ultralight non-freestanding tent, but this kit is a unique way to make the Duplex even more versatile.

Setting up the Duplex requires practice and is notably easier to pitch on level and dry campsites. This tent is made for thru-hikes and ultralight backpacking trips, but this unique kit makes it adaptable for really challenging or unusually hard terrain. Places where the Duplex might not otherwise work well like urban settings, platform camping, and rock-hard ground are not a problem with the kit added. With the kit hardware added, the tent remains under 2 pounds. Plus, you can always leave the additional poles at home or in the car and save that weight when you need to.

Cons

The Zpacks Duplex tent pitched in a meadow-side campsite in the Wallowas

High price tag

There’s no way around it: $669 is expensive for a tent. DCF material remains one of the most costly textiles in the outdoor industry, making the Duplex one of the priciest shelters we’ve reviewed. And, this base price doesn’t include stakes or trekking poles, which are required to pitch the tent.

Despite the high cost, we think the Duplex represents a good value as long as you’re putting it to regular use. It is one of the highest quality, ultralight freestanding tents for long-distance travel and lightweight backpacking adventures. You’ll be hard-pressed to find a more roomy or functional non-freestanding tent than the Duplex at any price point.

However, we recognize that this is prohibitive pricing for many hikers. If cost is one of your top priorities in a new shelter, check out our favorite budget-friendly tents on the Best Backpacking Tents list and Best Ultralight Tents list.

DCF is prone to punctures

Unlike nylon, DCF does not stretch, so it’s more susceptible to punctures. That means the Duplex isn’t as durable against abrasion as tents made with thicker ripstop materials. When you buy the Duplex, Zpacks includes a piece of repair tape. 

Luckily, DCF patches well. Consider bringing along a durable patch option like Tenacious Tape to handle rips. Since DCF doesn’t have a waterproof coating like nylon, the patches are less likely to peel and more likely to stay attached to fabric better. And, in case you need it, Zpacks offers a 2-year limited warranty as well as a highly-reviewed repair program for damaged products.

Like any tent, we recommend choosing a campsite carefully and taking the time to clear away debris like rocks and twigs to prevent damage. Consider purchasing a DCF groundsheet or a Tyvek groundsheet to give the tent floor more protection. For more tips on how to extend the life of your tent, see our guide How to Clean, Repair, and Store Your Tent.

A picture of condensation that has formed on the inside of the Zpacks Duplex Zip tent
The Zpacks Duplex tent side view
Photo credit: Dave Collins (CleverHiker.com)

Challenging to pitch

The Duplex, like all non-freestanding tents, can take some tinkering to “perfect” your pitch. Since the tent uses a minimum of 6 load-bearing stakes, the Duplex takes up more space than most freestanding tents. That means campsite selection can take longer to find the ideal flat, open, wide, and obstruction-free area. Then, once it’s pitched, the Duplex requires attention to detail: you’ll need to resituate tent stakes and fiddle with cinch cords until the tent is taut and as functional as possible.

In our experience, the finagling and effort it takes to nail the pitch on the Duplex can take 2 to 3 times longer to set up than a freestanding tent but might take more time based on conditions. For example, pitching the tent is more difficult if the ground is hard and stakes aren’t going in easily, you’re limited to a narrow space, or have to contend with lots of obstacles like roots or rocks. 

We’ve found the learning curve to pitching the Duplex is relatively short for most people, but you’ll want to practice at home before your first few trips. We recommend pitching the tent multiple times in varied terrain and conditions. Getting familiar with the challenges of setting up on slanted, rocky, or tight places is essential for thriving with the Duplex – and will save you time and frustration in the backcountry. 

A tent stake at the corner of the Zpacks Duplex
Photo credit: Dave Collins (CleverHiker.com)
Side view of the Zpacks Duplex to show inside of vestibule and tent pole that's not included
Zpacks 48” Carbon Fiber Tent Poles – Photo credit: Dave Collins (CleverHiker.com)

Stakes and poles sold separately

The Duplex requires a minimum of 6 stakes (we recommend using 8) and 2 poles to pitch, but none are included. You’ll have to purchase these separately, driving the price of a spendy tent even higher. For $669, the Duplex comes with the main tent, guy lines, taped seams, and a stuff sack. Zpacks also includes a piece of repair tape and extra zipper sliders. Deciding which stakes and poles you want offers customization but also a little extra effort to get the right setup.

If you’re looking for a new pair of trekking poles for the trail and for pitching your tent, take a look at our Best Trekking Poles Guide. If you prefer lightweight tent poles, we like the Zpacks 48” Carbon Fiber Tent Poles. They are sturdy, efficient, and collapse to just over 11 inches from their tall 48-inch pitch height, making them easy to pack and easy to carry.  To find the lightest and most durable tent stakes for your next backcountry overnight, check out our Guide to The Best Tent Stakes. Our top recommendations for the Duplex are:

  • All One Tech Aluminum Stakes – Named “best budget tent stakes” on our guide, these stakes are only about $10 for a 12-pack. We’ve found the Y-shaped design works well in all sorts of terrain. At 7 inches, they are longer than other stakes on the market but are also a tad heavier.
  • Zpacks Super Sonic Stakes – Zpacks own stakes are a great option. They offer excellent holding power and durability with the same Y-shape design and holding power as the All One Tech and Groundhogs. They are similar in durability to the MSR Groundhogs but for about half the price per stake.
  • MSR Groundhogs – The Groundhogs were named the “best balance of low weight and strong holding power” on our guide. These are a classic for backpackers thanks to their low weight and durability. These are the most expensive stakes on the list, but these offer great holding power for low weight.
A backpacker standing next to the Zpacks Duplex tent in a campsite near Elk Meadows
Photo credit: Dave Collins (CleverHiker.com)

Lackluster pockets

There are 2 pockets in the Duplex, but they are small, thin, and mediocre. We found they were fine for small, lightweight items like a lighter or chapstick, but nothing heavier. Like most of the lightest tents on the market, the Duplex sacrifices many features, including interior organization, although you can add another small pocket for more storage and an additional fee. The Duplex is designed for a streamlined and efficient setup, not luxurious, extended stays, so the underwhelming pocket structure isn’t a dealbreaker. 

An interior shot of a pocket in the Zpacks Duplex Zip tent with a headlamp inside the pocket
Photo credit: Casey Handley (CleverHiker.com)
Full view of the Zpacks Duplex tent in a forested campsite
Photo credit: Dave Collins (CleverHiker.com)

Packs large

DCF does not pack down as small as polyester or nylon. The packed size of a standard Duplex is 6 inches in diameter by 12 inches long, with a stuff sack that’s 7 inches in diameter by 13 inches long. In general, we recommend folding and rolling your Duplex, since stuffing can weaken the material over time, which also contributes to a larger packed size.

It’s a minor inconvenience for us and we don’t think it would be a dealbreaker for most people, but the Duplex will take up more room in your backpack than an ultralight nylon tent.

A hiker holding the Zpacks Duplex Zip tent in one hand and a water bottle in the other hand to show the size of the packed tent
Duplex Zip – Photo credit: Casey Handley (CleverHiker.com)

Bottom Line

The Zpacks Duplex is our top choice for serious ultralight backpackers seeking a lightweight, versatile, and waterproof shelter. For a tent that weighs just over a pound, the Duplex is as ultralight as backcountry shelters come and is the lightest tent on our Best Backpacking Tents Guide. Its generous interior space and large doors mean backpackers have plenty of room for rest and gear storage without sacrificing accessibility or convenience. The Duplex comes in a variety of sizes to cater to hikers of any height. Thanks to the performance fabric and functional vestibules, the Duplex excels even in wet conditions, making it a reliable shelter for backpackers tackling almost any terrain.

The Duplex does have some drawbacks, though. It comes with a premium price tag, making it one of the most expensive ultralight tents on the market, and stakes and poles are sold separately. Condensation can be an issue on wet and cold nights. The DCF material is susceptible to rips and punctures. Pitching the Duplex can be a bit challenging and take more time than the average tent. We’ve also found the large footprint and slightly larger packed size take some getting used to.

Overall, the Zpacks Duplex is one of our favorite ultralight tents and a top pick for long-distance backpacking. Although it comes with a higher price tag, it’s the go-to choice for thru-hikers and backpackers for all the right reasons. We think the Duplex is an excellent investment for weight-conscious adventurers who want an easy-to-carry and high-performing tent from a reliable brand that can truly go the distance – no matter how far you’re going.

Distant view of the Zpacks Duplex backpacking tent in a red rock canyon
Photo credit: Dave Collins (CleverHiker.com)

More Information

We hope this review helped you decide if the Zpacks Duplex Tent was right for your next adventure. As always, please leave a comment below if you have any recommendations, questions, or suggestions.

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